With the New Hampshire primary looming on Tuesday, the candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination sprinted across the Granite State as they campaigned for last-minute votes.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts appears to be a heavy favorite to win the primary. Romney has been leading the daily tracking poll from Suffolk University/7News of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters -- but that lead is shrinking. In the latest poll, released Monday morning, Romney still leads with 33 percent while U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas takes second with 20 percent. Romney had been pulling as high as 43 percent last week.
With the primary on Tuesday night, most pundits expect Romney to win and Paul to place second. The battle in third remains up for grabs. In the Suffolk poll, former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah takes 13 percent followed by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 11 percent and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with 10 percent. Former Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana takes 2 percent while Gov. Rick Perry of Texas follows with 1 percent and activist Fred Karger takes less than 1 percent.
Mitt Romneys biggest asset is the large number of candidates in this group that are dividing up the remainder of the vote, said David Paleologos,director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. With just a 33 percent stake, he can control his destiny, so long as the others in his group continue to battle each other. So the more people in the group, the merrier for Romney.
The poll of 500 likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters was taken on Jan. 7-8 and had a margin of +/- 4.4 percent.
Paul campaigned in Manchester and Hollis on Monday morning. His team plans to hit the polls hard on Tuesday and the congressman will be making appearances in Nashua, Manchester, Derry, Bedford and Merrimack to meet voters. Paul will be in Manchester on Tuesday night as the results come in.
The Paul camp framed expectations earlier this week, pointing to polls showing their candidate in second behind Romney and insisting they were gunning for a top three finish.
Ron Paul is polling a solid second place in the Live Free or Die state, where his message of personal and economic liberty resonates well, said Jesse Benton, Pauls campaign chairman. At media-staged debates where theater trumps discussion of todays pressing issues, voters are encouraged to choose from establishment candidates, big-government conservatives, and those unviable in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
New Hampshire voters know better and that is why Ron Pauls voter outreach events, ads, and other message-delivery efforts are yielding a respectable degree of growth, Benton added. As in Iowa, we are hoping for a strong top-three finish and our top-class organization is well-prepared for the final push.
With Romney a heavy favorite to win the primary and Paul appearing to have wrapped up second place, three candidates -- Gingrich, Huntsman and Santorum -- are jostling for the bronze.
Gingrich pointed to a big endorsement his team unveiled over the weekend from Bill OBrien, speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. OBrien took to the stump for the former congressional leader and published an endorsement in the New Hampshire Union Leader, a conservative paper which is backing Gingrich.
Huntsman unveiled a commercial on Monday that will be running in New Hampshire on Monday and Tuesday, in which he takes aim at Romney. The ad features comments Huntsman made in a debate on Sunday morning.
Let me say, first of all, with respect to Governor Romney, you know, there are a lot of people who are tuning in this morning, and Im sure theyre terribly confused after watching all of this political spin up here, Huntsman says in the ad. I was criticized last night by Governor Romney for putting my country first.
He criticized me while he was out raising money for serving my country in China, yes, under a Democrat, like my two sons are doing in the United States Navy. Theyre not asking who -- what political affiliation the president is, Huntsman continues. I want to be very clear with the people here in New Hampshire and this country: I will always put my country first. And I think thats important to them.
"This final ad before the New Hampshire primary starkly outlines the fundamental difference in this race: Mitt Romney always puts politics first, while Jon Huntsman puts his country first, insisted Tim Miller, a spokesman for Huntsman, on Monday.
Santorum also had a busy Monday, campaigning in Nashua, Salem, Derry, Somersworth and Manchester. The former Pennsylvania senator also had national and local media appearances, including appearances on Glenn Becks radio show and Sean Hannitys television show on Fox News.
Some of the dark-horse candidates in the race also crossed the Granite State on Tuesday looking for last-minute support.
Roemer had one of the busiest schedules of any of the candidates for the Republican nomination in the final hours before the primary. He attended almost a dozen campaign events and media appearances scheduled for Monday before hosting an event that evening to watch the LSU Tigers take on the Alabama Crimson Tide for the national college football title in Durham.
Karger, a longtime Republican operative and strategist based out of California, spent Monday campaigning in Manchester and Concord. He also had national and local media appearances, and continues to run an ad in New Hampshire playing up the facts that he backs same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
While the other candidates continued to focus on New Hampshire, Perry kicked off a tour of South Carolina which is the next state in the procession of primaries. South Carolinians will hit the polls on Jan. 21. Perry was in Anderson, Pickens and Greenville on Monday.
Romney is getting international attention as the favorite to win the primary. Paddy Power, the largest bookmaker in Ireland, released their final odds on the New Hampshire primary and have made Romney the overwhelming favorite to win on Tuesday. Romney has 1-33 odds while the rest of the field is far behind.
Romney looks to have New Hampshire all sewn up, said Paddy Power in a statement on Monday. However, with a state motto like Live Free or Die, few in New Hampshire are known for going down without a fight and Im sure the rest of the candidates will fight until the end!
Paul gets 14-1 odds while Santorum and Huntsman are 20-1 underdogs. Gingrich has 50-1 odds while Perry is a 125-1 longshot to win New Hampshire.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.